[This is a review of The Strain season 3 premiere. There will be SPOILERS.]
Beleaguered by a lethargic narrative that wasted much of its time and energy mired in pointless subplots, The Strain season 2 was, more often than not, a major drag. When the series chose to embrace the pulpy and quasi-campy aspects of its strigoi-infested landscape, it could be a lot of fun; unfortunately those moments were few and far between, as The Strain‘s sophomore season also had a penchant for attempting serious drama, mostly to an unintentionally laughable effect.
However, even after all of its stumbling, season 2 ended in a interesting place. After weeks of torturous searching, Setrakian (David Bradley) finally had a hold of the illusive Occido Lumen, as well as a new alliance with vampire hunter Quinlan (Rupert Penry-Jones). Meanwhile, Palmer’s (Jonathan Hyde) failed attempt to gain leverage on Eichorst (Richard Sammel) and The Master had seemingly ensured he would be forced into the subservient role he had been fighting so hard against. These developments — Zach’s (Max Charles) decision to join his strigoi mother notwithstanding — certainly signaled the potential for a streamlined, undistracted narrative throughline that would put the central focus of this vampire show back on thwarting the vampire threat.
And while the season 3 premiere, ‘New York Strong’, did place the threat of human extinction front and center while appropriately emphasizing those highest of stakes (courtesy of Samantha Mathis’ Justine Feraldo), it also presented the possibility of a fractured narrative — something that plagued much of season 2. Serving mostly as a table-setter for the season, tonight’s premiere did little to move the main narrative forward, instead opting to introduce a myriad of subplots that once again threaten to bog the entire series down.
Part of the problem stems from the fact that the show’s central ragtag band of survivors is fractured itself, which required the episode’s runtime to be divided between several disconnected scenes to check in on each of them. Here, we see that Eph (Corey Stoll) has isolated himself to grieve (and drink) over losing Zach while he continues to produce his vampire-killing bioweapon. And elsewhere, Sertrakian and Quinlan pour through the Lumen’s pages, apparently unable to decipher its contents; while Fet (Kevin Durand) works with Feraldo’s team of Navy Seals to attack the strigoi’s underground nests in search of The Master. Aside from a scene wherein the Seals come across a drunken Eph, and one that has Fet and Setrakian discuss their differing approaches to take on the strigoi, these various story threads don’t do much overlapping — meaning that, for now, most of the show’s main characters appear to be going in different directions.
While we can reasonably expect the gang to get back together at some point during the season, a larger story concern coming into season 3 revolved around one of television’s most unlikable characters, Zach Goodweather. Granted, he’s become more of a pawn than an actual character, but this season, it appears he’ll at least be a very important pawn as Kelly (Natalie Brown) presents Eph with an offer in the premiere’s final moments — the boy for the Occido Lumen. While Zach was mostly just intolerable and useless in season 2, it seems as though he’ll actually play a significant role this season, possibly serving as the catalyst to bring Eph and Setrakian into conflict over the ancient book.
That potential showdown between Eph and old Abe would certainly be a compelling way to bring two narrative threads together, but the show still seems content with moving the plot involving the book itself at a snail’s pace. It was frustrating enough watching the series’ main characters bungle every attempt to acquire the text for nearly 13 full episodes, so the indication presented in the season 3 premiere that it may take several episodes to successfully translate the book’s language into practical application is extremely disappointing, to say the least. Out of the many subplots introduced in the premiere, this is definitely the one that doesn’t need to be drawn out any further.
And the real shame of getting so overinvolved in unnecessary subplots is that there is less time for the vampire-slaying action many come to The Strain for in the first place. The sequences involving the Navy Seals infiltrating the strigoi’s nests, and then later falling into Eichorst’s trap were especially entertaining. Hopefully, future season 3 episodes will keep the tension, stakes and excitement high. Based on what we’ve seen from the season’s promos, it looks like some more creative set-pieces are to come.
With a heavy military presence on the infected island of Manhattan, the premiere certainly teased that the war between humanity and the strigoi is only ramping up. Unfortunately, the premiere ended up being another example of a Strain episode where not much happened. Other than learning that neither brute military force nor Eph’s bioweapon (which proved to be imperfect) are the likely answer to defeating the strigoi, there wasn’t anything new to be gleaned from a story perspective. Let’s hope that, as the season moves along, The Strain finds a way to connect a simpler, more cohesive narrative with the fun, campy tone it sometimes is able to strike.
The Strain season 3 continues next Sunday with ‘Bad White’ @10pm on FX.